IT was their best performance of the season but Illawarra couldn't avoid slumping to a 1-6 start to their campaign, going down 81-76 to a classy Perth outfit in Wollongong on Sunday.
The loss was soured further by a possible torn achilles suffered by star import Aaron Brooks. The marquee man had seven points and six assists before hobbling from the floor with 35 seconds left to play in the third term.
He didn't return with early reports indicating a possible tear in his left ankle as he chased Perth star Bryce Cotton over a screen. Coach Matt Flinn said the early diagnosis was that it's an achilles injury the extent of which is not yet known.
"It is an achilles injury, we can't confirm or deny whether that's a ruptured achilles," Flinn said.
"If it is the worst case scenario that'd be devastating for Aaron and for the club but at this stage I can't confirm any of that. He's still being assessed by the medical team."
It was just one several sub-plots on a drama-filled afternoon at the WEC on which Flinn was also forced to address rumours import centre Josh Boone has played his last game for the club.
The club reported prior to tip-off that Boone would sit out Sunday's clash as he looks to recover from a broken nose suffered against Cairns in round two that's hampered his recent efforts.
Rumours had circulated that the star big man may want out of the club but he was present on the Hawks bench on Sunday and Flinn said it was only injury that kept him there.
"I can't confirm anything there with Josh," Flinn said when asked about the rumours.
"From our standpoint his nose was giving him some issues in New Zealand and the decision was made for him to not play tonight and we'll assess that ongoing."
There were no such surprises for the visitors who were led by star duo Bryce Cotton - who had 17 of his 21 points in the second half - and Terrico White who had four triples in his 14 points.
Former Hawk Nick Kay was also big for the Cats with 15 points and seven rebounds.
LaMelo Ball fell just short of a triple-double outing, with 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, with veteran Tim Coenraad the other star for the Hawks with 18 points.
The pair went desperately close to pulling the game out of the fire late with a clutch three from Coenraad making it a three-point game with a 1.45 to play.
A lay-up from Ball again got the Hawks within three with four seconds remaining but the Cats were able to hold on through an equally clutch three from White and a couple from the line from Kay.
It bucked a trend of slow starts for the Hawks, who led at quarter-time and at the half, but trailed by four at three-quarter-time and five at the end.
After a tough stretch of four games in eight days, they will thankfully have a seven-day turnaround into next Sunday's clash with Brisbane in Canberra, one that's shaping as absolutely must-win.
"We had a rough 24 hours off the floor in terms of self-reflection but I'm proud of the way we responded as a group," Flinn said.
"To keep the champions at 81 points, we set a goal of 80 before the game. Given our track record this year with leaking points I'm really proud and really happy with the way they aimed up there tonight.
"There's been so much scoreboard pressure put on us because our defence and tonight we were able to generate stops and back-to-back stops.
"We got a few of those tonight and that allows us to flow and run in the open floor and apply a bit of our own scoreboard pressure for once which as nice
"I think we saw tonight, if we can consistently play like that, we're going to get some wins in this league."
Coenraad was hot early for the hosts, dropping his side's first six points and leveling up at 15 apiece from long range with his first triple midway through the quarter.
White was also on from the get-go, dropping consecutive threes, while Damian Martin also had a triple and a nice step-back to see the scores locked at 17 each after six minutes.
Brooks took his side's first lead with back to back buckets and drained one from long-range on a personal 7-0 run that forced Gleeson into a timeout.
Flinn gambled on a young line-up out of the stoppage and it paid off with Emmett Naar grabbing five points on a 7-2 run that saw the lead swell to 11.
Mitch Norton steadied from the line and lobbed up a buzzer-beating three to cut the deficit back to six at quarter-time.
Jesse Wagstaff drained a three to start the second and Majok Majok tipped in offensive board on 10-0 run either side of the break that brought the visitors back within one.
Ball got going with five, including his first triple as the game developed into a shootout into halftime, with Dan Grida and Kay trading threes.
Ball gave his side it's first halftime lead of the season with two from the line to go up 44-43 at the interval. The Cats quickly reeled it in, with Cotton and White dropping consecutive threes to take a 49-45 lead.
Back-to-back lay-ups from Coenraad squared it back up at 49 apiece. Thing turned dramatically when Brooks was it with an unsportsmanlike, Clint Steindl going two of two from the line.
Cotton drained two of his three triples for the quarter and a bonus on the back of it, with Brooks hobbling off the court on the same play.
It saw the Cats lead by four at three-quarter-time. Grida opened the fourth term with a three and Sam Froling chimed in with a three-point play.
Steindl fired from deep at the other end for a three-point cushion. Kay followed up from deep on a mini-run but Ball fired straight back with his second three to keep his side close.
Kay had another dagger three as the lead swelled to nine but a tip-in from AJ Ogilvy and a clutch three from Coenraad made it a three-point ball game with 1.45 to play.
Ball went 2-2 from the line to draw within one but White stepped up to nail his forth triple for a four-point buffer with 47 seconds left on the clock.
A turnover from Cotton gave the Hawks one last run at victory, Ball's lay-up getting them within reach before Kay iced the game from the line.